Game week has finally arrived.

To open the 2022 season, No. 7 Utah collides with Florida of the Southeastern Conference.

The Utes visit the Gators Saturday (5 p.m., MDT, ESPN) at 88,548-seat Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, affectionately known as The Swamp. 

The Swamp is regarded as one of the toughest environments in the country to play in for visiting teams. Over the years, this venue consistently has been ranked as one of the best home field advantages in college football.

Because of the stadium’s design, it can get deafeningly loud at The Swamp. The stadium was originally built in a sinkhole and the playing surface is actually below ground level. Stadium expansions have enclosed the field, and the stands are steep, trapping the crowd noise, which has been measured at 115 decibels.

Meanwhile, game-day temperatures at field level of The Swamp have exceeded 100 degrees. No wonder University of Florida researchers were the ones that invented the popular sports drink, Gatorade — named after the Gator football team — to help athletes deal with dehydration issues.

With that in mind — 115 decibels and 100 degrees — during practices this month, Utah’s coaching staff tried to do what it could to replicate the challenges that the team will face at Florida.

Inside the Utes’ indoor practice facility, the heat has been turned way up, and the noise has been turned way up — all in an attempt to approximate the conditions in Gainesville. 

One afternoon during fall camp, defensive tackle Devin Kaufusi exited the humid indoor facility. 

“Head to toe, I’m drenched in sweat. We’ve got the humidity cranked up. I’m proud of this team, how they handled it. It was almost a non-factor,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to be like heading down to Florida. Understanding SEC country, a big-crowd in the opener, noise, humidity. No matter what it is, we want to play our game and control what we can control to make sure no outside factors have an influence on us.”

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Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley and the coaching staff have been doing whatever necessary to prepare the players for the elements and the atmosphere they’ll encounter at Florida. 

“With crowd noise you try to simulate, you try to get it as hot and humid as possible in there (inside the indoor facility). Obviously, you don’t have the sun beating down on you. That’s one thing we don’t have,” Scalley said. “It’s just making sure they understand what that’s going to do to your breath, what that’s going to do in terms of losing fluids, how you need to hydrate. We’re doing everything we can to simulate what they can expect in Gainesville.”

Quarterback Cam Rising said the crowd noise pumped in has been great preparation for what’s coming at The Swamp. 

“It reminds you that there are games coming and we’ll have crowds out there,” he said. “It will be nice to get back to football like that.”

Kaufusi contemplated finishing his college career after last season. But he opted to use his additional “COVID” year and return. 

This game against Florida played a factor in his decision to come back. 

“I’ve always known that Utah had this Florida game. I knew that would be awesome. Now that’s coming up and I’m looking to play a role in that and be a part of that with our team down there,” he said. “It’s the peak of college football and it’s what you want to see the Utah football team do — travel across the country and play some other strong traditional football teams.”

The Utes have several players on the roster from the state of Florida, as well as a player that spent the last three seasons playing for the Gators — transfer linebacker Mohamoud Diabate

“We have a lot of guys from Florida. They always talk about Florida-this, Florida-that,” said running back Micah Bernard. “You talk about football and they say, ‘Florida’s got the best.’ It’s fun to joke around with them. It will be cool to go to their home and see what Florida’s all about and get it done.”

For freshman linebacker Lander Barton, this will be quite a college debut.

“I’m excited,” he said. “I never thought of playing my first college game in Florida. But it’s going to be a big experience. It’s going to be new. It’s going to be awesome.”

Center Paul Maile has waited for this week for a long time.

“It can’t come fast enough,” he said. “I’m really excited to get out there and show what we’ve got.”

No. 7 Utah (0-0) at Florida (0-0)

Saturday, 5 p.m. MDT

Ben Hill Griffin Stadium 

Gainesville, Florida


Radio: ESPN 700